Left-down-clicking in xterms starts the selection of something to be copy-pasted.

Double-left clicking selects a word.

Triple-left clicking selects a line.

All this works under unity in 11.04. However, there is no way to copy-paste that selection to another place: The right-click menu shows paste disabled, and middle-clicking to copy-paste does not work.

So how can I copy a selection from an xterm into another place? I am happy with any method to perform this.

(I am using the default-installation no special configuration so far)

Edit: Same problem with xedit

  • 1
    It totally depends on your DE and terminal. – RobotHumans Jan 9 '13 at 0:47
  • @AbrahamVanHelpsing: I am using the default-installation, should have said this... – false Jan 9 '13 at 1:05
  • 1
    After selecting, you need to copy, then only can you paste. Just mentioning it because the way the question is written, it appears you want to go straight from select to paste. In other words, select with left-click, copy from the right-click menu, and paste from the right-click menu. – user25656 Jan 9 '13 at 1:42
  • 1
    Are you using XTerm? (the software) or are you referring to Gnome Terminal as XTerm?. – Uri Herrera Jan 9 '13 at 2:01
  • @vasa1: But after the left-click selection, the right-click paste is still disabled! – false Jan 9 '13 at 2:48

13 Answers 13


Use middle click or shift+insert

see X Window selection

  • 2
    Middle click did not work, nor did Shift-Insert (which I have never heard of, but I tried). E.g., I try to copy-paste something into the text-box I am just writing... – false Jan 9 '13 at 0:52
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    X has two clipboards if you select something in xterm, it will goto the cut buffers, in which case you can paste with middle click or shift+insert. which is not the same concept as copy an paste. – strings Jan 9 '13 at 0:56
  • I added a link to help explain the X 11 selection process. – strings Jan 9 '13 at 0:58
  • Thank you. But how do I now get under unity a text from an xterm into another app. Previously, (I used karmic), I simply used middle click as you suggest. But now, under unity, or 11.04; neither middle-click nor shift-insert works. – false Jan 9 '13 at 1:03
  • 1
    if shift+insert does work either, then we can rule out its your mouse. are you using some clipboard manager. xsel or something like that? – strings Jan 9 '13 at 3:27

Xterm uses cut buffers, not the standard X11 clipboard selection used for standard copy-paste that gnome-terminal and most other Linux programs now use.

But if you start xterm like this:

xterm -ls -xrm 'XTerm*selectToClipboard: true'&

then selections are available via the standard clipboard.

Read more at Copying and Pasting in Xterm | StarNet Knowledge Database - PC X, X Windows, X 11 & More - StarNet

The xcb program also provides command-line access to the cut buffers.

E.g. in Trusty Tahr 12.04, running lxde window manager, I can triple click on a line of text in xterm, which highlights it and puts it in cut buffer 0. I can then run xcb -p 0 which prints the line out on stdout.

For some reason it didn't work for me to click both buttons (simulating middle click) in an xterm, but shift-insert did work in an xterm.

  • 5
    +1 - solved for me. As this question comes up in searches for questions such as "How to copy in xTerm," it's worth adding that if you have a .Xresources (or similar) file set up, you can add the xterm*selectToClipboard: true line there to make the change persistent :) – Ashley Davies Oct 25 '16 at 21:24
  • Stefan's answer explains how to ensure the setting in Ashley's reply gets read (worked for me on Fedora 29--I didn't try it without Stefan's extra xrdb step, but he also mentions you have to restart xterm though that may be obvious to most people) – Poikilos Feb 11 '19 at 23:00
  • Note that if you use -class ${CLASS} to launch xterm the corresponding flag becomes -xrm ${CLASS}.*.selectToClipboard:true so if you have separate xterm window classes, settings are tracked separately. – stevesliva May 30 '19 at 20:42
  • I don't understand the need for "-ls" option though. Actually it seems to work just fine without it. – desgua Sep 8 '20 at 15:49

To copy between xterm and other programs/documents/...

Add to the file ~/.Xresources (or create):

XTerm*selectToClipboard: true

Then run the command:

xrdb -merge ~/.Xresources

Restart xterm.


A similar issue is discussed here. As "strings" pointed out:

X has two clipboards if you select something in xterm, it will goto the cut buffers, in which case you can paste with middle click or shift+insert. which is not the same concept as copy an paste.

Copy/paste within xterm worked for me but not to an application outside, example gedit. As per the link above, I installed parcellite and that fixed the problem,

sudo apt-get install parcellite

Update: If "paste" does not work with "shift-insert", then use the middle mouse button or if you do not have one click both the left and right buttons simultaneously to paste.

  • 1
    For a little more clarity, after installing parcellite, run it. It sits in your system tray. Right-click > Preferences, then check "Use Primary" and "Synchronize clipboards". Now select something in Xterm, and you can then Ctrl-V elsewhere. – Ian Gibbs Dec 12 '15 at 6:41
  • thanks it worked , but once you install paracellite restart your terminal – user889030 Jul 31 '19 at 7:26

When you copy from xterm, just use

shift + middle click

to paste something into gedit or some editor in xterm like mcedit

  • On windows mouse I pressed the spin-wheel down click. Worked. – bendecko Feb 27 at 12:12

To copy text in Xterm first select the text and then press shift+PrtScr. To paste text in Xterm use shift+Insert .

  • Doesn't work in Linux Mint Xfce, 64-bit. – Adrian Keister Sep 7 '18 at 1:16

This does not quite answer your question, but it helped me, so am putting it here as it may help someone else:

  1. Copy what you want from xterm by selecting your text
  2. Open a second copy of xterm and your favorite text editor (I use vim)
  3. Use Shift+Insert (or middle-click) to paste into your text editor
  4. Save the file.
  5. If necessary open the file with a graphical text editor (such as gedit)
  6. Copy your text and paste it into the application that you want.

When you select text, it's put automatically in the cut buffer (like a clipboard). When you use Copy, from a menu, or with a keyboard shortcut, it goes into the main clipboard.

To paste from the cut buffer into your xterm, middle-click. To paste from the clipboard into your xterm, shift middle-click.


See here for an explanation of paste problems with xterms and modern apps/window managers: http://www.davidsimmons.com/soft/xtermhacks/#copynpaste

  • Welcome to Ask Ubuntu! Whilst this may theoretically answer the question, it would be preferable to include the essential parts of the answer here, and provide the link for reference. – Eric Carvalho May 21 '13 at 0:13

Xterm uses the primary X11 selection, which is different to the clipboard. The program xsel can be used to copy the primary selection into the clipboard:

xsel -op | xsel -ib

In order to do so I have defined Meta-c in Fluxbox for this.

Mod4 c :Exec xsel -op | xsel -ib

This is handy for Windows programs, which support only one clipboard (for example VirtualBox).


If you want to retain support for PRIMARY and still be able to use the CLIPBOARD (this is cool since basically you get two clipboards instead of one), you can ignore selectToClipboard and set the translations resource instead:

*VT100*translations:    #override \n\
    Ctrl <KeyPress> Insert: copy-selection(CLIPBOARD) \n\
    Shift <KeyPress> Insert: insert-selection(CLIPBOARD)

After that, if you select a text with your mouse it will get copied to PRIMARY, and a middle-mouse click will paste the text back from PRIMARY, just like the default XTerm behaves.

At the same time, Ctrl+Insert will copy the text to CLIPBOARD and Shift+Insert will paste it, similarly to modern GUI applications.

If you wish, you can add more key bindings in a similar way, and you can also have more than two clipboards by using X Cut Buffers (they can be referenced as CUT_BUFFER0, CUT_BUFFER1, etc.). More on X Cut Buffers here.

See also this question.


What worked for me was extracted from https://www.davidsimmons.com/soft/xtermhacks/#copynpastenopatch

Summary: Add to ~/.Xresources

XTerm*VT100.translations: #override <Btn1Up>: select-end(PRIMARY, CLIPBOARD, CUT_BUFFER0)

and the run xrdb -merge ~/.Xresources.


I have otherwise useful Glipper clipboard manager running on 12.04.
If I select xterm characters, they appear in a new Glipper's entry.
If I select that entry (button) among that succession, the next paste will come from it and paste those characters into any application.

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